Health Insurance in Hawaii Ranks State High
Employers in Hawaii, Obama’s home state, must provide health insurance for their workers. As reported by the Associated Press, this fact has resulted in Hawaii ranking high in several key health areas and with a health care plan that shares some characteristics with the proposed federal plan.
Although the state laws requiring the fiftieth state’s employers to provide affordable health insurance were passed thirty-five years ago, some of the apparent fruits of that legislation may be worth a second look in light of the current battles over health care reform.
For example, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, only 8.3 percent of Hawaii’s population was uninsured as of 2007, while the national average was 15 percent. Living in Hawaii seems to ensure a long life: its residents had the longest life expectancy (79.8 years), beating out Minnesota (79.1) and the national average (77). Hawaii also had the most affordable average family premiums for employer-based health insurance: $9,426 in 2006, far below the national average of $11,381.
Hawaiian residents visit the emergency room less than any other Americans: in 2007 the islanders made 264 visits per 1,000 people, compared with 274 in California, 647 in West Virginia (the highest), and national average of 401. Hawaii also is first in the nation in the percentage of companies that offer health insurance to its employees and second for the lowest rate of deaths associated with heart disease.
Does mandated health insurance encourage people to see their doctor? The statistics suggest it does. Hawaii had the lowest percentage in the nation (6%) of people who did not see a doctor because of the cost. Texas was in last place at 20 percent, while the US average was 14 percent.
Federal law makers and the general public may also want to keep an eye on the gaps in the Hawaiian law while they overhaul the national health care system. One major loophole: employers do not have to provide health insurance coverage for part-time workers. In the legislation before Congress, the House bill does not define “full-time employee” and the Senate action fully covers employees who work a minimum of 35 hours per week.
The Hawaiian law requires employers to provide health insurance to people who work more than 20 hours per week. To avoid providing the coverage, some employers hire more part-time workers below 20 hours. According to a University of Hawaii study, the state has the highest percentage of private-sector part-time workers without employer-sponsored health insurance in the nation.
Before Hawaii passed the current health insurance law, about 17 percent of its residents did not have insurance that covered doctor and hospital charges. According to the Hawaii Uninsured Project, that number fell to about 5 percent in the early 1980s. The rise since then may be attributed to a rise in unemployment, a tendency to hire more part-time workers, and a general rise in health insurance and health care costs.
The Herald (Monterey County) 7/29/09